The scene on Jeopardy might play out something like this:
“I’ll take pop groups with strange names for $800, Alex.”
“Here’s the clue: This group, named after the sound an infant might make, was a one and a half hit wonder, first with the group’s single “Too Shy” in 1983, then with the lead singer’s solo hit “The Neverending Story” the following year.
“What is Kajagoogoo.”
“That is correct.”
It was the age of big hair, and Christopher Hamill, using the anagram stage name Limahl, had big hair when he recorded the title track for the popular fantasy film based on the first half of a recently published children’s book by the German author Michael Ende.
The film was a creative masterpiece in the last years before computer generated graphics, magical creatures including a furry luck dragon named Falkor, puppets and costumes created by hand not by code. Just as the second half of the book took a dark turn, so too did real life, for the child lead in the first film would become a lifelong slave in the cult of Scientology, while the child lead in the second would take his own life. There would be three films in total, but only the first can be considered a classic.
The novel is meta-fiction, a story about a story that knows it is a story. Bastian, a young boy with a dead mother and a distant father, for this is a children’s book so there have to be absent parents, reads the story of a magic land that is being consumed by “The Nothing,” which we are led to believe is disbelief and loss of imagination in our world. “The Nothing” is portrayed as rolling black clouds. In a pivotal scene, Bastian has crossed over into the fantasy world, where all that remains in the wake of nothing are the boy and the Childlike Empress. There, in the dark, she opens her hands to reveal a tiny spark of light, just enough light for creation to begin again, fueled by Bastion’s imagination.
Bastion’s name, his full name, is important to the plot of the novel. That full name is Bastian Balthazar Bux, the middle name bearing on today’s feast, for Balthazar is the invented name of one of the traditional “three kings” we celebrate on the Feast of Epiphany, technically yesterday but celebrated today. In ancient Greek, epiphaneia means an appearance or manifestation, for the encounter between the Wise Men and the Holy Family is considered the first with Gentiles, the first time God’s salvation is revealed to those who are not Hebrew. In truth, there were many non-Hebrews attracted to the faith of the Diaspora, people called theophobes or God-fearers who would make up the first group of gentile Christians.
Today’s feast is also called the Day of Lights, with a star playing a prominent role in festivities, for it was the Star of Bethlehem that served as guide.
Bastian Balthazar Bux traveled from dark to light to re-create. Balthazar the Babylonian, along with the Melchior, from Persia, Caspar, from India, traveled toward the light and encountered a new way of being human.
In eastern Christianity, Epiphany is not about the Three Kings at all, but is about the baptism of Jesus, where the special character of Jesus is revealed, and here we are this week, at the Jordan, in the midst of the baptizing ministry of John. And he makes known or reveals the special character of Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” and two of John’s followers abandon him to follow Jesus.
We might raise a brow at this notion, the fickle followers who without hesitation change prophets, no better than those who suddenly become fans of a winning sports team,. Things are about to become really bad really fast for John the Baptizer and his followers. The “not a prophet” himself, herald of the Messiah, will be arrested and beheaded.
But the Jesus community understood John’s role as preparing the way, so it makes perfect sense that those who served on John’s advance team should join the main mission when it begins.
Rather than judge those two followers and the assorted others that Jesus would collect in today’s reading, we might consider that they were traveling light, open and able to adapt, not so much fickle as ready.
We must be light on our feet to respond to the light, to move toward the light.
It would have been so easy for those followers of John the Baptizer, Andrew and the unnamed follower many believe to be the one Jesus loved, weighed down by their sense of obligation to the Baptizer, it would have been so easy for them to be too tied down and too heavy. But that isn’t what happened. Their hold on John, on their expectations, was light and loose. They were ready for what God was sending, ready to respond.
And they followed Jesus, calling him rabbi, or teacher.
And Andrew goes to get his brother, who we will come to call Peter, and tells him they have found the Messiah, the one sent by God to deliver the people.
This is a very different story than the one found in the other gospels, but even here in the community that associates itself with John the Disciple, Peter’s preeminence is accepted.
Then Jesus finds Philip and Philip tells Nathaniel. We’re at five disciples at this point, and Jesus only called one of them, for Andrew and the unnamed disciple were traveling light and ready to follow the light, and responded to the word of the Baptizer, then Andrew told Peter, and Philip who was called by Jesus told Nathaniel. Eighty percent of this first community came from evangelism, from people sharing the light. Come and see! Come and meet! Something new is happening here and we are traveling light enough to get on board.
I recognize the irony of the fact that I am the modern equivalent of a Hebrew priest standing in a modern Temple pointing out that the followers of the Baptizer and these first followers of Jesus were traveling light enough to respond. I do not think learned clergy and dedicated spaces are in and of themselves a burden as much as the death grip with which we hold what is old, familiar and comfortable. It is our attachment, our worship of the wrong things, the heavy hearts trapped in grief for a time that was, the death grip that only comes loose as the pipes of recently refurbished organs go to the scrap yard, too many churches closing for them to be re-sold.
And in our own lives? Are we traveling light? Are we nimble, at least as nimble as our age will allow? Or has the Nothing consumed us, to that we cannot move toward the light?
What is weighing you down? To what do you cling until blood runs between your fingers?
The Buddhists are right about attachment, for we weigh ourselves down with possessions ad ideas and memories and rules and guilt until we sink into a nothing that is black, watery, cold…
And there is the light.
Even when the nothing has taken it all.
Even when Caesar’s legions beat and extort and the corrupt and powerful collaborate with that hatred and racism to achieve their own ends, the wretched self-righteous in their Temple with their public displays of piety.
Even when the Nothing has taken it all, there is still a spark.
A light in the sky leading to a stable.
A trusted teacher who says “Look! The Lamb of God!” and good people traveling light, ready to respond.
What is made known? What has been revealed?
Dark and crushing, locked behind doors in fear, but the women went out, the women courageously went out to do what needed to be done, and they found the light.
Pilgrims who traveled light enough to move not once but twice, settling in this land and planting the seeds that would become this church.
A church traveling light enough to build and rebuild, to see the new things God was doing and to come to accept women in the pulpit and the LGBTQ community into their hearts.
Are we still traveling light? Or are we weighed down, by guilt at what we have done, by notions of who we used to be?
Do we respond to the light? Are we part of the advance team preparing the way for God’s whole new thing? Will we be ready to get on board?
Will we be consumed by the Nothing, or is there yet a spark of light, a little imagination, a little room for what the Spirit might manifest in this place? In your life?
“This 2007 vocal album by Queen Latifah was her second collection of jazz standards, including this eponymous hit.”
What is Trav’lin Light?